Study Guide

Canto I What's Up With the Title?

By Ezra Pound

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What's Up With the Title?

Well, "Canto I" might not seem like the most interesting of titles, but if you look closely, it actually tells you a lot. First of all, "canto" is the Italian word for "song." Second, the word comes from classical Italian poetry, where poets would divide long poems up according to cantos in the same way that novels have chapters. So by using the word "canto," Pound is definitely connecting himself to an old, old tradition of European poetry.

More specifically, the most famous poet to divide his works into cantos is Dante Alighieri, the Italian master who wrote such famous poems as Inferno (which, by the way, they made a video game of) and Purgatorio. In these poems, Dante follows the main character Virgil down into hell to explore the darkest depths of the human soul. That's sort of like what Pound is doing by following Odysseus into the underworld. So in this sense, both Pound and Alighieri are trying to express the dark side of humanity in poetic form, maybe so they can come to terms with it and find a way to make it beautiful.

Finally, the fact that "Canto I" is numbered tells us that this canto is just one out of a collection of many. But when Pound wrote this poem, even he probably didn't know just how long the Cantos project would end up taking him (hint: the rest of his life).

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